Thursday, June 2, 2016

MEKNES, MOROCCO: LUNCH, GATES, SNAKE CHARMERS, AND THE SOUK

We had spent the morning in Volubilis and the town of Moulay Ismail, and we were hungry. Hassan took us to a restaurant in Meknes and sent us to the top floor--the roof. It was much like the place where he had left us the previous day. The other tourist groups were all eating on the main floor, and we were the only ones on the roof.

Here is THEIR setting:

. . . and here is ours:

We felt a little like poor relations, but we felt a little better after we checked out the view, which is not your typical restaurant view in the United States:

We started with the usual bread and olives, the latter being about a thousand times better than the former:
  

We had what may have been the best juice of the entire trip at this place. Mine was a terrific blend of orange, banana, strawberry, avocado, and apple. I can't remember what Bob had, but it was good too.

Next were six different cooked vegetables,

. . . and two different kinds of lamb tagine: mine with vegetables:

 . . . and Bob's with prunes:

Dessert was the usual: two apples, two oranges, and two bananas, but with three coconut lemon cookies, a rare treat.
Except for the juice, it was a relatively ordinary meal, certainly not the best food of our trip. The rest of our visit to Meknes, however, was anything but ordinary.

Over the years, Morocco has had four different capitals: Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat (the current capital). If you think that is a lot, trying figuring out how many capitals the United States has had. (See information here.)  Of the four, Meknes was the one I had never heard of.

Meknes was founded in the 11th century as a military settlement, and after changing hands several times, it became the capital of Morocco under Sultan Moulay Ismail from 1672-1727. To put these dates in context, this was during the early days of the American colonies. The Salem Witch Trials took place during that time. During those years Britain's Charles I died and James II ascended to the throne, then was deposed in the Glorious Revolution and replaced by William and Mary, who were replaced by Anne, who was replaced by George I, who was replaced by George II. Louis XIV was king of France. Peter the Great became Tsar of Russia. In general, there was a lot of upheaval and change going on all over the world, but Moulay Ismail held steady in Morocco.

One of his many accomplishments was the building of this city, still the 6th largest city in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is surrounded by 25 miles of ramparts, making it one of the largest enclosed cities in the world. You can see the wall enclosing the city in the photo below:

We entered through the spectacular Bab el-Khemis Gate, or "Thursday Gate," so named because there used to be a market just inside this gate on Thursdays. Moulay Ismail liked the Spanish Moorish style, which is reflected here. The holes in the walls are for aeration.


We walked to another gate, the Bab Mansour Gate, named after its architect and completed five years after Moulay Ismail's death, in 1732. The marble columns were pilfered from the ruins of Volubilis:

The intricate designs on the gate are stunning:

Across from the Bab Mansour Gate is a large open square:

Bob had heard about and was excited to see the snake charmers in Marrakesh, which we'd be visiting later, but lo and behold, there were snake charmers in Meknes. Bob is drawn to snakes like steel to a magnet, so of course we had to go look.

There were "snake charmers" playing flutes, but since there were no cobras, it didn't have quite the right effect:

That big fat one is a puff adder, the snake responsible for causing the most snakebite deaths in Africa. It is one of the most toxic snakes in the world.

Of course, Bob wanted to hold the puff adder, but he had to settle for something a little less exciting. Darn. He tipped the charmer about 50 cents, which didn't seem to make the guy very excited, but he didn't complain.

We left the square for a stroll through the souk. I never grew tired of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of these ancient market places:



Hassan, in the red and black sweater below, leads the way:





We were amazed by the variety of olives, and we bought them several times during our trip:


These olives sat out in the open air all day and were frequently handled by the shopkeepers' bare hands.

We bought a pint-sized cup of a mixed variety for about $1.65.  I tried not to think too much about hygiene when I ate (and enjoyed) them.



Later in the day we visited another market that was a bit like a swap meet. The locals were buying and selling personal goods. Hassan said it was not a tourist place, but that we could watch and take a few discrete pictures:


I'm guessing they get better prices for their purchases than we do, but that's okay.

2 comments:

  1. You were much more courageous about taking pictures in the market than I was. Some nice shots. I loved the olives. And I do wish I'd tried some of the meat stored in fat like in your shot to the left, just above.

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  2. The beautiful walls and gates never get old. Bob is the only person I know that could be disappointed he wasn't allowed to hold the adder.

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